AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 408

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Session 408: Haafu, mixed race studies and multicultural questions in Japan

Organizer and Chair: Koichi Iwabuchi, Monash University, Australia

Discussant: Hsiao-Chuan Hsia, Shih Hsin University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Mixed race studies has developed primarily in Euro-American contexts. It productively draws attention anew to the strategic and creative negotiations/resistance against racialized marginalization by the persons concerned, while being cautious not to reproduce an underlying essentialist conception of race. This panel will examine how the issues regarding “mixed race”—as now most commonly called “haafu”(half)—are articulated in the Japanese context. While racial mixing has long been (mostly negatively) discussed in Japan, with the increase in migration and international marriage, it has recently become more visible and more positively perceived than before. With a brief introduction of the genealogy of the terms such as “konketsu” (mixed blood) and “haafu” that refer to “mixed race” in Japan, this panel will analyze through three different cases (would-be) celebrities’ strategic uses of cultural capital associated with racial mixing for self-empowerment, their reception by the public and the (im)possibilities of deconstructing an exclusive notion of “Japanese-ness”. The panel will discuss how the racialized politics of inclusion/exclusion is distinctively highlighted in Japan, how the postcolonial questions are underscored by the (non-)whiteness of haafu and how studies of haafu/mixed race enhance critical engagement with multicultural questions in Japan. This panel also aims to discuss how comparative studies of mixed race can be developed in East Asian contexts, offering new insights into mixed race studies and advancing a theoretical reconsideration of notions such as race, hybridity and national identity.

Covered Bridgings: Japanese Enka and its Mixed-Blood African American Star
Christine R. Yano, University of Hawaii, USA

Jerome Charles White (“Jero”), 28-year old mixed-blood African American from Pittsburgh, debuted in February 2008 as Japan’s first black singer of enka (nostalgized ballads most popular with older adults; characterized as expressive of the “heart/soul of Japanese”). The raised eyebrows generated by his debut stemmed not only from the fact that a mixed-blood African American male in hip-hop clothing with street dance moves was populating a Japanese music stage, but more specifically, that this was an enka stage. This paper analyzes the discursive negotiations surrounding this mixed-blood figure by the Japanese music industry and public. The racialized justification given for Jero’s legitimacy as an enka singer lies in his Japanese grandmother and her love of enka; indeed, Jero, like many African Americans, is of mixed blood. Jero’s in-betweeness enacts racial, national, cultural, and generational bridgings: simultaneously African American, Japanese, and mixed blood, he sings Japanese songs of an older generation. Indeed, Jero’s tears are painted an ambiguously tinged shade of black mixings. Armed with song, tears, and mixed-blood pedigree, Jero performs national inscriptions of displacement that crucially and ironically position him as nothing less than a prodigal grandson.

Becoming “Haafu”: Japanese Brazilian Female Migrants and Their Racialized Bodies in Japan
Tamaki Watarai, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan

For a discussion about mixed race issues in Japan, I take up Japanese Brazilian female models or those who wish to engage in this profession. Although it’s common to be a mixed race in Brazil, Japanese Brazilian women who come to Japan as return migrants realize that their being “mestiça”, which means mixed race female in Portuguese, now can be valorized as “haafu” in the Japanese printed media. Here I would like to address the following questions: To be successful as “haafu” models, how do Japanese Brazilian women perform, appreciate or contest this racialized image? Are there any differences between being haafu and being mestiça? In the end, what does “haafu” mean to Japanese Brazilians, especially in terms of their transnational lives? By analyzing interviews with the models and modeling agencies and observations of beauty pageants in Brazilian community, I will discuss the complexity and uniqueness of the conception of “haafu”.

Mixed Race Oiran?: A Critical Analysis of Discourses of (Non-) Japaneseness
Sayuri Arai, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

Based on a popular manga, and with the twist of a focus on the contemporary world of girls, combined with psychedelic colors, a Japanese film, Sakuran (2007), directed by Mika Ninagawa, depicts the lives of oiran [Japanese prostitutes] in the Edo era (1600-1867). The protagonist, an oiran named Kiyoha, is played by white-Japanese, mixed race actor, Anna Tsuchiya. The casting of Tsuchiya as a "Japanese" oiran was controversial, because by putting a mixed race actor in the role, the film challenges the dominant notion of Japaneseness in Japan. By conceptualizing the theoretical concepts of Japaneseness, whiteness, and haafu [mixed race Japanese people] within a Japanese context, this essay explores the discourses of Japaneseness as they circulate and relate to the mixed race actor cast as an oiran in the film. By analyzing the Internet posts on one of the largest film review websites, this study aims to understand and critique the ways in which discourses of (non-) Japaneseness are narrated contemporarily, as well as explore the ways in which Japanese identities are negotiated and constructed within popular discourses.